This started, as so often happens, at Thinking Anglicans. The specific topic was the Diocesan Convention of San Joaquin. That Convention, led by Bishop John-David Schofield, passed on first reading changes in diocesan constitution and canons that would presume to distance San Joaquin from The Episcopal Church, and declare that diocese “constituent” within the Anglican Communion.
Among the other documents linked from the report on Thinking Anglicans was Bishop Schofield’s address to the Diocesan Convention. I read it, and felt moved to respond. Now, I initially responded on Thinking Anglicans; but I waxed eloquent (or at least verbose) and exceeded the 400-word guideline there (a wise guideline to which I humbly and happily accede).
But then, I have a blog. If I want to write so much, I can post it there. And here it is.
Perhaps there are many nits to pick in Bishop Schofield's address – issues of how accurately he recounts recent history, or how accurately he describes the positions and concerns of those with whom he disagrees; but others will do so, and probably better than I. Two things did strike me, especially in light of recent discussion in the blogosphere.
First, he specifically cited issues of ecumenical discussion and hope for union with Eastern Orthodoxy and with Roman Catholicism. Several recent discussions I've run across have noted that these are not the only large, international bodies of Christians with whom we interact ecumenically, much less nationally and locally in the Episcopal Church. A number of those other bodies are not so distressed at the ordination of women or full welcome of GLBT persons in the entire life of the Church, including orders. We are in conversation and sometimes in full communion with communities that maintain the historic Episcopate, but are not in communion with either Rome or Constantinople (the Lutherans, the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, and the Mar Thoma Church come to mind). We may find the similar structures - especially an initially similar Episcopate - of Rome and Constantinople attractive; but they hardly describe the whole Body of Christ. Citing ecumenical issues with only a part of the Body illustrates Bishop Schofield's inclinations regarding centralization of authority, and, in my opinion, clericalism.
Second, I find Bishop Schofield's image of Paul before Agrippa interesting. It certainly works to illustrate his perspective that San Joaquin is the prophetic voice. Or, perhaps it would if he were talking about San Joaquin. What impressed me was how very much he personalized the parallel with Paul. Yes, questions have been raised with and for him as an individual, ordained in The Episcopal Church (and for all his repetition of it, there is no institution called "The Anglican Communion" within which to be ordained - repetition doesn't make it so). However, his image of himself as so central, so pivotal, detracts from his focus on issues. Yes, there may be some consequences for him, but this is not about him, from either pole of the debate. His presentation suggests to me that he's not clear about that.
Let me make an analogy. I am a citizen of the United States, and of a State, and of a City. I am subject to all the laws of those various levels of government. I cannot deny one level to the exclusion of another, even it I might argue (even successfully) that the laws at one level supersede the level at another. Am I a citizen of the world? Yes, but only in a metaphorical sense. Am I subject to international law? Yes, but only under the terms of agreements between the United States. At this time, for all the promises or worries the phrase entails, there is no World Government.
In parallel (and if the analogy is imperfect, I still think it is apt), I am a priest with a specific position in a particular diocese within The Episcopal Church. I am subject to the canons and policies of all those levels of authority. I cannot deny one level to the exclusion of another, even if I might argue (even successfully) that canons at one level might supersede canons at another level. Am I a member of the Anglican Communion? Yes, but only metaphorically. Am I responsible within the Anglican Communion? Yes, but only under the terms of the relationships among those various provinces of the Communion, made somewhat substantial by recognition by the See of Canterbury and participation in the Instruments of Communion. And those relationships are provincial, and not diocesan. I am no more individually related to the Archbishop of Canterbury than to my own Presiding Bishop, or to the Primate of Canada or the Primus of Scotland. We share in Christ’s grace, and we are recipients of Anglican tradition; but in terms of the Anglican Communion, I am connected to them in and through the relationships between provinces. In those parallel structures of how we as human beings have organized ourselves under God, my specifically Anglican connections, unlike my general Christian connections, are through the structures and not despite them.
All in all, I do not find Bishop Schofield's argument persuasive. We have yet to see the consequences of his leadership of his diocese within the context of the institution he used to recognize as his church. In the meantime, I think it is important to see ourselves within the entire Body of Christ, and not simply within the Anglican limb; and to recognize that if I am heeding Christ’s call to seek and serve “the least of these,” I have to remember, however strongly I might feel, that this isn’t all about – it isn’t even, it can’t be, even mostly about - me.